and you WON’T believe what happened next!
Apologies. If that clickbait headline didn’t suck you in, I hope what I have to say will. Recently, a well-known website ran a piece on a British blogger, Lucy Hemmings, who visited the country, but went through some horrific experiences and felt the awful effect of our completely patriarchal society first-hand. I would like to preface my piece by saying I do not wish to belittle her or her experiences. I’m certain they must have been extremely traumatic, I’m sorry that she went through them and I wish her luck in healing.
This is addressed to the Indian men ‘apologising’, and that being seen as a wonderful thing. It isn’t.
The motive of these ‘apologies’ is suspect, as is the language used in them. One reads: “thank you for showing that India is not Slumdog Millionaire! Thank you for showing people we have a beautiful culture.”
‘Culture’ is not just one thing. It isn’t the backwaters or the marshes, or the palms swaying in the background. ‘Indian culture’, that oft-repeated term, is also a fictional angel or demon, depending on who is playing that card and how. It is as much ingrained in the Indian psyche to stoop to patriarchy as it is to boat in the backwaters. Or likely far, far more. Going by the state of roads in every single city in this nation, open defecation is also part of this ‘culture’. So is marital rape, which somehow still has no legislation against it.
Comments on various websites show men saying “its all a feminazi [do NOT fucking use this word] activist for dowry (sic)” or somehow implying that a) feminism and feminists are evil incarnate, or b) working for women’s rights is somehow unnecessary in ‘Indian culture’. These comments, many of which declare allegiance with an idiotic concept known as ‘men’s rights activism’, are ironic in their very existence, displaying exactly why India needs feminism so badly.
Another comment read, and patronisingly so: “So I just thought to say sorry (on behalf of everyone in India). I know you have moved on, learned the rules to live with more security. But I thought a sorry would make a difference.”
A ‘sorry’ for what, exactly? For reaffirming the patriarchy? For ‘ensuring’ she ‘learned the rules to live with more security’, security that is a basic human right and should not be tied to what I wear, how I look, how long or short my clothes are, my size, and so on and so forth?
What about all of the INDIAN women who face this garbage on a daily basis? Are we supposed to have internalised the ‘rules’ this wonderful man reminds us so we can ‘live with more security’, and a failure to adhere to these ‘rules’ is an instant ‘rape me/molest me/sexually harass me’ license?
Another man wrote about how he felt bad because he “had a little sister at home” that he “could not imagine all these things happening to”. Maa-behen feminism is the bane of Indian feminist existence. Is the only way for a man to know how to respect a woman as a human being to imagine her as his mother or sister if he has one? Must one need some sort of personal visualisation to be able to understand the issues women face? Or does human empathy not exist anymore? I have never needed to imagine myself as a dog to feel the pain of a dog (my own) that injured his leg. I felt sympathy and understanding for what he was feeling.
Pain does not have to be somehow astrally projected onto a loved one for one to fully comprehend its effects, something the people who espouse maa-behen feminism do not seem to understand, or even want to. Signs plastered all over the Bengaluru metro say “she is your daughter or your sister – do not steal her innocence.” Can one not feel sympathy and understanding for a victim of molestation unless she is related, or we somehow mentally pretend she is?
The men apologise furiously for a ‘foreigner’ having had a man masturbate at her. Except that there are millions of women every single day who are masturbated at, or have been masturbated at in the street. I am one of them, and I was too mortified to inform the police. I continued on my morning run, but the incident is quite unfortunately burned into my memory. I have had men ‘accidentally’ push me aside, their hands too close to my chest for comfort. I am a hundred percent certain I am far from the only person this has happened to, and I’m sorry to say it is likely happening to somebody as I type this.
Where are the Indian men apologising for the people who do this to Indian women? Plenty of them are guilty at staring 6 inches south of a woman’s face whilst talking to her. Where are the men apologising for the fact that our ‘culture’ promotes products like Fair and Lovely, which by its very name implies that fairness is lovely?
This entire incident proves how rampant racism is in India – and it’s entirely reflexive. In the Indian obsession with white skin and white people, these poor, apologetic men seem to have entirely overlooked the biggest demographic that suffers the repercussions of our wonderful ‘Indian Culture’ – Indian women.
The article ends with a letter from a man who writes: “P.P.S thank you for wearing kurta and kameez and respecting our culture and traditions”, which seems from the letter to have been something she did after being masturbated at, to prevent it from recurring.
Which would be fine… if that ‘kurta and kameez’ wasn’t what more than half the population of women wear in this country, every single day, and get masturbated at, catcalled, sexually harassed, molested or raped in spite of wearing. And that, dear man who wrote the letter, is because sexual harassment has nothing to do with what’s on my body, and everything to do with what is in your mind and those of men all over the country. That a woman exercising her own right to wear what she pleases, do whatever or whomever she wishes to, is a license to judge her character, and an open invite from her to sleep with you. It is not.
This somehow seems to all tie in with an attitude I have observed to be a very Indian phenomenon: the obsession with how others perceive us, our nation, our everything. These letters seem less to do with actual concern for Lucy or the awful incident that happened, and more with how people perceive India – as a ‘land of rapes’, a place where women are not respected, treated as equal beings, a country so steeped in patriarchy it’s emanating from the street, from the urine of all those men who piss on the street with impunity, with neither civic sense nor the risk of getting raped as so many women and young girls do when they are forced to void themselves in the middle of nowhere because there are no toilets for their use.
Instead of sweeping, insincere, misappropriated apologies that reek of desperation, the best ‘apology’ would be changing attitudes. This means not questioning what a woman was wearing, or her character, when she was sexually harassed. This means not condoning marital rape, not excusing its legality. This means treating women with respect, as equal human beings, which is what they are, and respecting their choices. This also entails not poking fun at an actor for starring in a video that may have been an ad campaign, but held a pertinent message all the same, a message the large demographic of Indian men want to deny – that sex is not something a woman is ‘expected to give a man’ – it’s an activity that is supposed to be pleasurable for both sexes. Marriage does not give a man the right to demand sex as he pleases. But our sex-starved nation, which is depraved enough that our ministers think sex education will somehow lead to promiscuity, will not acknowledge this.
This means not posting ‘behen ki ****’ on an online forum, or leering at a woman’s legs or breasts. No disparaging Sunny Leone for her choice of career. She chose to be in adult films – that was her prerogative. She now chooses to be in Bollywood cinema, which I argue is possibly more covertly sexual than adult films, and in the dirtiest way possible. That, again, is her prerogative, and it is not any more or less ‘respectable’ than anything she chooses to do – because she has chosen to do it.
Is anyone going to apologise to the women in the Sports Authority of India hostel, for the authorities who harassed female athletes for consuming alcohol and drove them to suicide?
A final rejoinder to the man who wrote in thanking Lucy for ‘respecting traditions’ by ‘wearing kurta and kameez’. Hey, the skirt I wore the other day was longer than the veshtis most men wear to go about their daily business – is that an open licence to molest them,too? [Hint: It’s not. What I’m wearing, or not, gives you NO license to touch me, or even look my way.]
I thank Messrs Rodgers and Hammerstein for providing me the inspiration for my conclusion, which is what I truly see as the reason for the ‘viral’ nature of those insipid, sickening letters.
White skin and ‘Indian culture’ tied up with string, two of the populace’s favourite things.
This is a post that’s been in the works for a while now. It’s about an issue that is extremely, extremely important to me. Important enough to get me absolutely livid when it’s even mentioned.
I’m referring to those absolutely lovely advertisements on the television every hour of every day, on absolutely every channel. This lovely Indian product called ‘Fair and Lovely‘. The title itself seems to imply that you can’t be lovely unless you’re fair.
I’m utterly offended by the very premise of the product.
I haven’t even BEGUN to discuss the actual advert.
I suppose it isn’t prevalent anymore, but it is definitely still present.The entire idea that being fair-skinned somehow makes you automatically attractive.
What I’ve noticed, though, is that this entire phenomenon is concentrated among those sub-cultures and areas of the country where the priority in a family seems to be to have the daughter married off, because that is when she ‘truly begins her life’, apparently, and if she is ‘unattractive’, nobody will want to marry her.
They use that terribly redundant system now used in villages- showing the potential bride’s and groom’s sides of the family pictures to decide whom they want to marry.
Yes,that’s the way to do it, instead of actually finding out what the other person is like, getting to know them, deciding whether or not you want to be with them long-term, which is actually what happens in the system known as ‘arranged marriages’.
Though I am completely against the very idea of ‘arranging’ a marriage, I must admit that it has become nothing more than families setting their children/siblings/cousins up with potential suitors. I find the whole idea horrendous, though. If at some point in my life, I am looking for love, I’d rather find it by myself.
Back to the Fair and Lovely advert.
They’ve been getting progressively worse over the years, but I saw about the worst one I’ve seen just two weeks ago, while I was watching an India-Australia test series.
It depicted this young girl, perhaps only a few years older than I, riding a bicycle. Funnily enough, Queen’s Bicycle Race immediately came to mind. The girl then sat down at the edge of her little brother’s bed, and pointing out the window at the huge mansion across the road from their own (decently-sized, and by no means spartan) lodgings, said “Someday, I will buy us a house that’s THAT big.”
The little boy looked at her, makes a face, and said that since there was ‘no money in cycling, she should try tennis instead’. When he said that, two things came to mind. First, I wanted to go up to the inane writer and ask him if he knew who Lance Armstrong was. ‘No money in cycling’ indeed.
My second issue was that I found it absolutely stupid that he was suggesting she take up tennis, considering Sania Mirza‘s worldwide show of ‘talent’. She played about 5 games decently, and then decided she wanted to focus on doing advertisements and promotions instead, thus forgetting all about this lovely thing known as practice.
A couple of years into her career, all she was famous for was for her personal life and endorsements, which is pitiful,really, because she was talented, beyond a doubt.
She just needed to nurture it, which she forgot about somewhere down the line. Perhaps she could’ve taken pointers on how to balance her career and endorsements from the Williams sisters, but I suppose that’d be like asking a random intelligent person to emulate Albert Einstein. Quite unfair.
The girl in the advertisement then proceeded to continue with her bicycling career (shock, horror!) but this time, something’s different. What is ‘different’ this time, you ask?
This time round, you see, she uses a ‘fairness cream’, one that shows you how fair you’re getting. The girl gets progressively fairer (and, I’m supposed to assume, as a result, more beautiful). She’s offered a multitude of endorsement contracts- perfumes and fragrances, cars, books, airlines, food, you name it, and of course, she gets rich.
They then (mercifully) cut to the end of the advertisement, which is even worse.
Miss Fair-and now-Lovely reaches the finish line of an important bicycle race (in first place,of course) and pulls off her helmet and shakes her hair in a manner befitting the actresses of the 50s that pulled off their scarves and let their hair blow in the wind, all the while seated in their huge convertibles, driven by a Cary Grant, or a Humphrey Bogart.
As her long hair cascades down her back, she poses for the paparazzi and then, putting an arm around her mother, walking down a road full of massive bungalows , says “pick one,I’ll buy it for you.”
So, what we, (you and I, dear reader, and the rest of the nation watching this stupidity) are supposed to infer, is that even if you are a brilliant sportsperson- cyclist, javelin thrower, tennis player, chess player, or successful at what you do, it all comes to naught if you aren’t conventionally good-looking.
You’re also supposed to infer that you CANNOT be considered conventionally beautiful unless you’re fair, which is terrible, considering some of the most beautiful, good-looking women ( and men) in the world are dark-skinned, like Tyra Banks, or Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Why, then, do we wonder why the young girls of today are becoming anorexic and bulimic, obsessed with their appearances and cosmetic surgery, rather than what is inside? Our ideals of beauty have become completely warped, and people have ceased to realise that beauty is a very, very relative term, and will always remain in the eye of the beholder. Thanks to this, anyone who is not absolutely skinny is labelled ‘plus-size’,’fat’, or obese.
I am completely in favour of eating healthy , but the pressure on young girls to be thin is, sadly, tremendous, and most of them bow down to it.
While it disgusts me, I am sure that the executives at Hindustan Unilever, the manufacturer of Fair and Lovely, are completely aware that their product only sells by feeding off the insecurities of millions of young girls who are just forming their opinions about the real world, have just hit puberty, and, perhaps, for the first time, have begun to care about relationships and appearances.
Since our country’s censor board is absolutely obsessive about ‘censorship’ on television, perhaps they should be fully aware of what truly needs to be ‘censored’.
Fair is foul, and foul is fairness creams.